Header image: Installation view of “Pumpkin” (2022) at “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now,” 2022. Photo: Lok Cheng, M+, Hong Kong.
The much-anticipated exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” is now open at M+! Not only is this the art museum’s first special exhibition since its opening in 2021, but the exhibition is also a groundbreaking retrospective of the celebrated artist’s personal and artistic life outside of Japan. Read on for more on what to expect at this unique exhibition.
An exhibition that was four years in the making, curator Mika Yoshitake and M+’s chief curator Doryun Chong worked tirelessly through the global pandemic to bring this monumental display to Hong Kong. Working closely with the Yayoi Kusama studio in Japan, the curators organised the exhibition chronologically and thematically, hence its name. It’s the Japanese artist’s largest retrospective in Asia to date, outside of Japan.
You will find a complete retrospective of Kusama’s artistic career as you step into M+’s West Gallery. From her earliest drawings to her most recent paintings, and everything in-between, “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” is not only an intimate showcase of the artist’s beginning and her struggles with mental health, but also an insightful look into the influences of politics, war, racial and ethnic discrimination and stereotypes, and human connectivity on artistic production from the mid-twentieth century to now.
Showcased at M+ is a wide range of Kusama’s works, from paintings and drawings to installations and sculptures, collages, and moving images to archival materials. Curators Yoshitake and Chong have organised this extensive portfolio of work into six sections that best represent Kusama’s artistic and personal journey in the past seven decades.
The Infinity section showcases the origins of the “Infinity Nets” that became foundational to Kusama’s art. Tightly packed patterns representing an endless space first came to Kusama when the artist journeyed across the Pacific to reach America in 1957. The crashing waves caught Kusama’s attention and inspired the artist to look for similar, infinite patterns in nature and recreate these in her work in contemplation of the boundless complexity of life.
The Accumulation section showcases Kusama’s appreciation for the unaccountable abundance of life. Inspired by “a million white stones” on a riverbank near her childhood home in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the young Kusama has fallen “under the spell of accumulation” ever since. As seen in Kusama’s later works, natural growths of buds, tumours, or phalluses multiply across surfaces wherever possible.
The Radical Connectivity section represents two values crucial to Kusama’s art: connection and collectivity. Living in the US during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights and Gay Rights movements propelled Kusama to use her art as a form of protest. Her public performances from this period highlighted a notion of “self-obliteration,” where the artist believes true equality and connectivity can only appear when the “self” is erased from a person.
Over at the Biocosmic section, you can see Kusama’s unique philosophy of the universe. “Cosmos” for Kusama refers to an underlying order in the universe where humans and plants are all animated by the same spirit, and as such, are equals in the web of creation. Combining motifs from both the Infinity and Accumulation section, Kusama’s works in Biocosmic use galactic and cellular forms almost interchangeably with one another.
Death, contrary to what the name of the section suggests, powerfully asserts Kusama’s will to live through loss and depression. You can also find some of Kusama’s earliest works here, addressing the destruction she witnessed during World War II, and subsequently the cycles of life, death, and regeneration in the aftermath. Underlying this dark section is an extinguishable hope for spiritual renewal and rebirth, a second chance to live.
Kusama’s will to live and her appreciation for life are best represented in the final section of the exhibition. The vibrant pieces showcased in this section not only form a stark contrast with the darkness of the previous section but also demonstrate the healing power of art for the artist—a quality of art Kusama wishes her works to bring to all of mankind.
Exclusive to M+, visitors to the museum can enjoy three site-specific installations of Yayoi Kusama’s works. Entering M+, visitors will be greeted by “Pumpkin” (2022), two sculptures covered in Kusama’s signature polka dots, in the Main Hall.
Heading further down into the M+ complex, awaiting visitors is a large-scale installation commissioned by M+, “Death of Nerves” (2022). A continuation of the work of the same name, the 2022 version showcases Kusama’s will to live and love of life in the stark contrasts between the monochrome prototype and the vibrant latest work.
Finally, visitors are invited to enter The Studio at level B2, where the space is transformed by “Dots Obsession—Aspiring to Heaven’s Love” (2022). Large balloons and mirrors decorate the space of The Studio in reflection of Kusama’s mirrored spaces from the 1960s.
“Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” takes you through the journey of Kusama as an artist and as a person. Visitors can get to know the origins of many motifs and themes that persevered throughout Kusama’s artistic career, as well as appreciate lesser-known works created in mediums you won’t usually attribute to the artist.
The emotional and philosophical journey of Yayoi Kusama as showcased in the exhibition through the style, mood, and medium of the works makes this exhibition worth visiting. Kusama’s unrelenting will to live as represented in her works is more important than ever in our post-pandemic global society, and it would do well for the world to be influenced by Kusama’s call to collectivity, unity, and love.
Want something to bring home and commemorate your visit to the monumental exhibition? Head over to the M+ Shop and browse across a wide selection of limited-edition merchandise! With everything from socks and tote bags to water bottles, you can find it all at the end of your visit. Of note are the collaborative phone cases between M+ and Casetify featuring Kusama’s paintings, as well as the printed book accompanying the exhibition.
Apart from the main exhibition, M+ has also prepared a variety of off-site attractions for lovers of Kusama’s work to partake in her vibrant world as they go about their daily lives. Particularly, the MTR Corporation has partnered with M+ to introduce Kusama’s signature yellow polka dots into the interior of trains running on the Tuen Ma Line from now till 27 December. Passengers can immerse themselves in Kusama’s unique world of accumulation with the accompanying audio guide about Kusama and her work as they travel.
Families can also choose to join the M+ Family Day, where a range of artistic workshops and activities are available for you and your little ones to explore together.
“Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” is on from now till 23 May 2023. Visitors can purchase tickets to the exhibition on the M+ official website. Book your tickets now for an experience of a lifetime and learn more about the iconic artist’s signature works.